Oh summer how much I shall miss you! It’s already end of September 2014 but the weather seems to hold. The forecast for the next week couldn’t be better and I remember an article I read a few weeks ago about Bulgarian mountains. I’ve never been there so far and I’m always keen on exploring new lands. I’ve immediately mail Cosmin, my usual climbing partner. Even now after so many year I always feel excited no matter where or how easy the climb is. And I have all the reasons to do so as I get a positive reply. Bulgaria it is.
I’m going to be flying back to Romania to met Cosmin and we will be driving to Borovets to spend the night. Sofia is obviously closer but I didn’t want to leave him alone. There is no highway and the road is terrible. There seem to be a lot of work in progress and the GPS frequently loses the way. Everything is in bulgarian. Oh if I could only understand something. People rarely speak English so we have to trust the navigation. At least the sunset is nice.
It’s 11 pm and we arrive at the destination. Standing in the middle of a small village with no lights, no people, just a sign that reads “Borovets”. But this can’t be it. We finally see somebody, what a relief. They don’t speak English but at least they understand “Borovets hotel”. The man is pointing in the way we just came. Thank God I have my roaming on. Google maps shows we are just about 90 km away from the destination. Never crossed my mind there can be two locations with the same name and the GPS chooses a village over a ski resort. At last we arrive around 1 am. It looks uninhabited and even the hotel is empty. This happens when you go out of the season.
We didn’t get much sleep and is already pass 9 am. I buy some batteries for my head torch and off we go. If there was any room for surprises it hit us. The cable car is closed due to very low tourists. That adds another 4hours to our journey. If only we could find the route. Not even the mountain rescuers speaks english but at least they are able to point us in the right direction.
We keep the main road that leaves from Borovets and after 20 minutes a sign points left into the forest. Shortly after, we find ourselves on a rocky road crossing a river stream several times before reaching Yasterbets at almost 2400m where the cable car should have dropped us.
The snow is already about 5cm deep. From now on the ground gets steeper and there are literally no signs along the way. The one that points to Musala Hut is facing the wrong direction and we got lost a few times before finding the right path. Is burning hot and the snow starts to melt transforming the land into a swamp. I hope my summer boots are still waterproof. The hike is easy and it doesn’t take much to reach the hut. We grab lunch and a local beer from the hut. The peak looks so close yet is just an illusion. At least 3 hours in these snowy conditions.
The path continues right of the lake and now it’s well marked but harder. Steeper sections and some easy rock climb, probably a piece of cake when not covered in 15inch of snow. We don’t face any problems though and in no time a pointy metal piece rises between the mountains – Everest refuge.
From here we go straight up to the top following the winter route. Marked with iron piers and chains the north ridged zig-zags with a rock scramble. Not very difficult but required attention as snow made it slippery.
On the top the snow is up to the knees and with it’s almost 3000m is rather flat than pointy. A few other people chat in from of the weather station. They seems surprised we made it without crampons and even more when hearing we plan a return to Borovets in the same day. The sun threatens to disappear over the mountain. We take a few photos and rush down to the hut. By the time we got there is was already dark. Cursed be the russian batteries. My torch is barely visible and Cosmin doesn’t have any.
The way back is long and the low light doesn’t help much. Heat must have melted everything as by the time we reached Yesterbets there is no more snow but only water and mud. Terrain is unstable and finding a path without drowning in the thick mud seems impossible. But we’ve made it. We’re in the forest now but the torch is almost dead and we’re guided by the moon light as there are no markings of the route. When we got back to the car we looked like we’ve been to war and not hiking. The very same night we moved on to Bansko as our plan was to summit Vihren the next day. It was 3 am by the time we went to sleep as our hotel was closed and we had to search another one, but that’s another story.
Next day came and even if we haven’t slept much the spirits are high. To get to the mountain one has two options. Drive to Vihren hut or take the well marked path for about 18 km walk. We drove there and start our ascent around 10 am. A beautiful day once again. A bit windy but clear sky and sunny.
We decide to approach from the north side as the south ridge seems loaded with snow. Wise decision as we later on find out would have been impossible without winter gear.
At first the route follows a river stream through a dense dwarf pine forest just to reach higher grounds where a narrow path reveals the entire valley and in the end turns left towards Kazana refuge.
Now we are facing some rock scrambling, nothing too hard but attention is required as snow is still present. Once we to got pass this short section, far in the distance between the rocks, Kazana refuge can be spotted. The climb is done in the shadow of Vihren massive and after several ups and downs we get pass the refuge just to reach a very steep slope.
The rocks tend to crumble under you feet so it’s a bit of work getting to the top but once got there we can see Premkata saddle that splits Vihren from Shodolsky Peak. We can’t see the summit from here but Kutelo ridge is breathtaking. Far in the distance is Kutelo Peak with its 2809m. Cosmin decides to take a break but I’m determined to get there.
Unfortunately the ridge is full of snow and just a few inches wide and I have no choice but to go round it. It takes about 45 mins of grade I scramble. The ridge is secured with chains on some parts where is just too narrow for one to step. Splendid view from the top but I have to get back as the clouds are closing in. We still have to climb Vihren and get back to safety.
From the saddle we follow the path that takes us to the base of Vihren. The climb starts easy and smooth but becomes steeper and steeper. Is nothing technical and unless you never step foot on a mountain before there is no need for helmet or rope. It turned out though crampons are required as the rocks were covered with snow and ice as we got closer to the top.
And here we are finding ourselves 50m away from the summit facing a dilemma. Push to the top but risk falling on the way back or walk away. If only I wouldn’t have done the same mistake in the past by not having my crampons with me. I shouted at Cosmin to stop and start descending. We planned a return on the South ridge but since we couldn’t get to the top that wasn’t an option any more. A herd of wild goats cut our way as we walked in the shadow of Vihren.